The Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine today launched a new program, Care Coordination of High Risk Diabetes Patients, thanks to a $1.5 million grant over five years from the Merck Foundation.

Marshall is one of eight program grantees supported through the new $16 million, five-year Merck Foundation initiative, Bridging the Gap: Reducing Disparities in Diabetes Care, to help mobilize community-based partners and improve diabetes care for vulnerable and underserved populations in the United States.  The program works with rural health centers and rural hospitals to improve outcomes and reduce costs for people who are most affected by diabetes.  A key component is community health workers who work with people in their community and homes to manage their condition.

Principal Investigator Richard Crespo, Ph.D., a professor in the department of family and community health and longtime diabetes researcher, says the funding will bolster efforts to treat diabetes and its related complications in patients throughout West Virginia.

“People in Appalachia experience lower access to health care, have higher rates of chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” Crespo said.   “In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled a 644 county area as the diabetes belt. More than one-third of the diabetes belt counties are in central and southern Appalachia.”

Promoting health equity among people with diabetes requires a comprehensive approach that brings together high-quality health services with resources drawn from outside of the health system. Collaboration across multiple sectors can address the many factors that influence health, such as access to healthy foods, and safe options for physical activity, housing, and education.

“Dr. Crespo’s work in rural parts of West Virginia continues to be very important,” said Joseph I. Shapiro, M.D., dean of the Marshall School of Medicine. “We are seeing real change through his efforts and those of his team under the direction of Dr. Steve Petrany, our chair of the department of family and community health.”

“We need to look beyond the usual health care solutions to address the growing burden of diabetes, especially among vulnerable populations in the United States,” says Julie L. Gerberding, chief patient officer, Merck and chief executive officer, Merck Foundation. “Through Bridging the Gap, we are pleased to bring together these eight diverse organizations, and look forward to leveraging their expertise to help more people effectively manage their diabetes and improve their overall health.”

Additional program grantees include: Alameda County Public Health Department (Oakland, California); Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics (Orofino, Idaho); La Clínica del Pueblo (Washington, D.C.); Minneapolis Health Department (Minneapolis, Minnesota); Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton, Washington); Trenton Health Team (Trenton, New Jersey); and Western Maryland Health System (Cumberland, Maryland).

The University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois) will serve as the national program office for Bridging the Gap, and in this capacity will support the program efforts of the grantee organizations and provide leadership in building a national public-private partnership to help reduce disparities in diabetes care.

For more information, visit